Syrian Defense Minister Blasted for Attacking Lebanon’s Sfeir, Druze Leader
A strong verbal attack by Syrian Defense Minister Mustapha Tlass on Lebanon’s Maronite Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt sparked a barrage of protests from Lebanese Christian MPs Friday, reported the Daily Star newspaper.
In a rare interview published Friday in the Lebanese daily Ad Diyar, Tlass claimed that “Sfeir had sought the intervention of Pope John Paul II to persuade Israel in 1983 to defend Lebanon’s Christians during battles with Druze militiamen in the Chouf.”
Menachem Begin, then Prime Minister of Israel, had allegedly replied that Israeli blood would not be shed for any cause other than the Jewish one.
MP Butros Harb expressed surprise at Tlass’ statement, particularly his sharp criticism of the patriarch, said the paper.
“Such a statement, coming from an Arab government official, was surprising considering this same official is supposed to have a better knowledge about the circumstances of the Lebanese civil war.”
Harb urged Syrian President Bashar Assad to “prevent such frivolous statements in the future,” adding that they “could undermine Syria’s national interests and credibility,” the paper quoted him as saying.
Harb said, “we don’t know whether or not to congratulate Minister Tlass on becoming the pope’s secretary, or whether he is to be condemned for acting as Begin’s confidante, because he would not have learned about this secret otherwise.”
Harb added that “in 1983, Sfeir was not even patriarch and it was the late Patriarch Khreish who was in charge.”
The MP recalled that “Lebanese Maronite history is full of sacrifices and struggles against the Zionists and racists of all kinds.”
In the Ad Diyar interview, Tlass dismissed Sfeir’s criticism of Syria’s interference in Lebanese political life, said the paper.
“This is [Sfeir's] opinion and we have good relations with the Lebanese state and Lebanon,” he said. “We have grown up and matured and we do not need advice from anybody.”
Tlass said relations between Lebanon and Syria were governed by the two country’s presidents and governments within the framework of the 1991 Treaty of Fraternity, Coordination and Cooperation.
The veteran Syrian minister also had harsh words for Druze leader Walid Jumblatt.
“Let him (Jumblatt) criticize, we are not going to answer him and we do not listen to him … we are the ones who invented him,” Tlass said.
Harb defended Jumblatt, saying the Druze chief “is not an insignificant leader. He comes from a family that has continually had a role in the political leadership of Lebanon.”
Another MP, Neamatallah Abi Nasr, had similar criticisms of Tlass, the Daily Star added.
“Patriarch Sfeir took his seat in 1986. So how could he have asked Begin to protect the Christians?” the MP asked in a statement Friday.
MP Fares Boueiz stated on Friday, after his brief meeting with Sfeir, that “the Maronite patriarchate has never gambled on support from the Jewish state.” - Albawaba.com
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